Vladas Jurgutis - the first Governor of the Bank of Lithuania


Today, 2 October, marks 99 years since the Bank of Lithuania started its operations in 1922. Pursuant to a Presidential Act, professor Vladas Jurgutis was appointed the first Governor of the Bank of Lithuania during the Independence period and he remained in this position until 1929. Who was this person that made an impact on the history of the Bank of Lithuania and the Republic as a whole? 

The first Governor of the Bank of Lithuania was born on 5 November 1885 in Palanga. He attended a local progymnasium and graduated from it in 1901. Soon after, he joined Kaunas Priest Seminary and became a seminarian. He graduated from the Seminary in 1906. A few years later, he and other like-minded people established the Lithuanian Catholic Federation Ateitis. It is a Catholic organisation of personality development that unites schoolchildren, university students and alumni, operating to this day. The five pillars of Ateitis are: Catholicism, patriotism, education, community spirit and social responsibility. It aims to renew and strengthen the civil society of Lithuania. It organises youth projects, camps, training courses and seminars. 

In 1906, Vladas Jurgutis joined Saint Petersburg Theological Academy. While studying there, he got interested in sociology and even wrote his thesis on Karl Marx’s view on religion. At the Academy, this subject was taught by another famous Lithuanian, Jurgis Matulaitis (the first one in Russia). Matulaitis later became an archbishop in Lithuania and was beatified in 1987. He was very supportive of Vladas Jurgutis. It is said that the future bishop was the one to encourage the future Governor of the Bank of Lithuania to take an interest in economics and later Jurgutis actually chose this path. In 1910-1914, he studied economics at the University of Munich. 

After coming back to Lithuania, Jurgutis was appointed professor at Kaunas Priest Seminary and he held this position for several years. Later, he became a vicar of Liepāja parish (Latvia). During World War I, he retreated to Russia where he worked at Saratov Theological Seminary but went back to Kaunas Priest Seminary in 1918 and worked there until 1920.

However, 1920 was the year when Jurgutis changed his course from the spiritual world to the one of economic and politics. He was elected to the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania as a member of the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party and was in the presidium of this fraction. 

On 1 January 1922, President Kazys Grinius appointed Jurgutis the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He did not hold this position for long, only until 28 September. During this period, he refined the Ministry’s functioning and issued some important decrees for diplomats. He also participated in negotiations on the territories of Vilnius and Klaipėda. 

On 28 September 1922, Vladas Jurgutis, as an economist, erudite and polyglot, was appointed the first Governor of the Bank of Lithuania. The bank started its operations on 2 October, which was four days after the Governor was appointed. Jurgutis was appointed while still holding his position as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Therefore, he did not contribute to the establishment of the bank or the creation of the litas. Thus, him often being called “the father of the litas” is not entirely true. 

After becoming the Governor, although having no similar experience, he took his responsibilities very seriously. He had to take care of organising the bank activities and the monetary reform. In addition to that, his responsibilities included ensuring the stability of the monetary system, improving domestic and international settlements, promoting economic development, etc. These tasks were very challenging. The country was depleted, its economy was disrupted, it was still dependent on Germany and no one had experience in central banking. As already mentioned, this was an entirely new area for Jurgutis. Having that in mind, he gathered a strong Board whose members were mostly former bankers and economists. 

The Bank of Lithuania’s structure was shortly created and employee discipline was introduced. The stability of litas was ensured quite quickly. Close cooperation between the Bank of Lithuania and the Government was one of the contributing factors. Export volumes were increasing and so were Lithuania’s foreign reserves. 

However, the relationship with the Government wasn’t always perfect. As early as in 1923, Jurgutis wrote his letter of resignation because he disagreed that the Bank of Lithuania should perform treasury operations. Yet, he remained in his post until 1929, when he chose to leave by his own volition. Most probably, it happened because incompetent people were assigned posts at the bank. Jurgutis disagreed with this decision and decided to resign.

However, he was also involved in other activities. In 1925, he was one of the founders of AB Lietuvos Cukrus, he also lectured at the University of Lithuania and the Higher Officers’ Courses of Grand Duke of Lithuania Vytautas the Great, published various economic publications and was an active member of various public organisations. This is what occupied his time after leaving the post. 
When Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, he continued his work as a professor, but that at Vilnius University this time. A case was being accumulated against him because he was considered an “anti-Soviet element”. During the Nazi occupation, he temporarily held the position of the general adviser of economy. A while later, he was part of a Lithuanian intellectuals group that was exiled to the Stutthof concentration camp by the Nazis. He fell gravely ill there and only survived with the help of other Lithuanians (amongst whom was another prisoner Jonas Noreika-Generolas Vėtra). 
Jurgutis returned to Lithuania in 1945 and was imprisoned by the Soviets. However, fate was on his side and he was released. Sadly, as a result, he wasn’t allowed to continue his academic work anymore. He had to get by on a meagre pension and with the help of his family. Jurgutis passed away in 1966 in Vilnius and was laid to rest in Palanga. 

As the first Governor, Vladas Jurgutis was honoured when the independence was declared for the second time. 

Since 1997, the Bank of Lithuania (along with the Lithuanian Academy of Sciences since 2008) has been granting Vladas Jurgutis Award for scientific research in the fields of Lithuanian banking, finance, money and macroeconomics.

In 1997, a middle school in Palanga was named after Vladas Jurgutis (Palangos Vlado Jurgučio Primary School since 2009) and in 2005 - a street in Vilnius.

In 2015, next to the central building of the Bank of Lithuania in Vilnius, Vladas Jurgutis monument was erected and it was made from molten former Lithuanian 50 cent coins.

There are a number of commemorative symbols throughout Lithuania that remind everyone of Vladas Jurgutis, his life and work. 

Bank of Lithuania